In the last few days, you probably ate a leftover turkey sandwich or two. And why wouldn’t you? If done right, that turkey-stuffing-cranberry concoction rivals anything James Beard-blessed and can even top the Thanksgiving meal itself. Hint: bread is key, and challah is never a bad choice.
You might have transitioned turkey into another main dish. And maybe you even used a turkey carcass to make soup—you and former 1988 Presidential Nominee Michael Dukakis. (Dukakis’ willingness to accept others’ turkey carcasses netted him 20 such donations this yearand a great hashtag: #Dukarcass!)
If you did any of the above—great! If you didn’t, there’s probably still time. Most food safety experts say you can use cooked meats for four days, but they are erring aggressively on the side of caution. (These are the same people who advise against cooking stuffing in your turkey). If you fall into that same cautious category, then use it or lose it…or freeze it.
If you’re not keen to eat those leftovers sooner than later, it’s time to be thankful for freezer. Freezing leftover foods for later use is a sound way to avoid waste, provided you actually use them later.
Now, we know there’s a tendency to only focus on wasted food around Thanksgiving. Of course there is. It’s only natural to contrast our Thanksgiving abundance and the resulting waste—more than 400 Statues of Liberty’s worth of turkey (by weight) squandered at American Thanksgivings—with our persistent hunger. And to compare our 35 percent turkey waste rate with the reality that 15 percent of U.S. households are food insecure.
Yet, as we enter December and approach a new year, let’s look to our recent leftover love-fest for inspiration. While the Friday after Thanksgiving may be a de facto National Leftovers Day in the U.S., it would be lovely if we approached food repurposing with one-tenth that zeal on other days.
What if that creativity and can-do kitchen spirit was more of the norm? And why shouldn’t it be? It’s sound behavior from an economic, environmental, and ethical standpoint.
Regardless of whether or not you have been enjoying leftovers lately, the most important thing now is not wasting food this week. And the week after. And every week. Because it’s that consistency that will really prompt change. The same can be said for soup kitchen volunteerism, but I digress.
Our own food behavior matters because all indications point to households as the epicenter of U.S. food waste creation. While we lack true farm-to-fork data, a 2012 Business for Social Responsibility study found that 44 percent of post-farm food waste happens at home. So that little bit that we’re all creating every day—0.7 pounds per person per day—really adds up.
And back to the subject of a National Leftovers Day, I’d love to see this obviousness confirmed and given the recognition it deserves. If Black Friday gets a name—albeit a not-so-catchy, negative one—we can at least recognize this more noble day-after. Sort of like the British do with Boxing Day, only with more stuffing.
In addition to using more of our leftovers, it may make sense to avoid creating that glut in the first place. Minimizing the amount of excess food we create is the most effective way to minimize the impact of wasted food. So keep that in mind when you’re picking your Christmas goose, planning out latke amounts or whatever it is you do around this time of year. But more importantly, keep that in mind every week when you’re grocery shopping, and serving friends and family.
I recently did a webinar for a corporation’s annual waste-free lunch. During the webinar, I suggested—politely—that the employees should feel free to eat a waste-free lunch every day. And I would politely suggest the same to you. Of course, if it consists of last night’s dinner, all the better!
Jonathan Bloom is a journalist, speaker, and consultant on the topic of wasted food. Bloom is the author of American Wasteland and creator of the blog Wasted Food, You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @WastedFood, or in Durham, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife, two sons and many, many containers for leftovers.